BEIJING, March 23, 2015 /PRNewswire/ — In April 2014, a 10-square-meter fast-food restaurant, Singularity Brothers or “Xi Shao Ye,” opened in Beijing’s Zhongguancun Haidian Park and immediately attracting an enormous following. In its first 100 days, Singularity sold a record 200,000 hamburgers. Favorably reviewed by local media, the valuation of what was clearly a franchisable restaurant quickly shot up to RMB100 million. In September, another location opened in a Zhongguancun shopping center near KFC and enjoyed even greater popularity. The founders of the “Brothers” were now confident they could create a global franchise. Only in ZPARK, with its massive international influence, could the Singularity Brothers have gained such a huge following.
“The fifth branch of this now very popular restaurant chain was opened in December 2014. It’s no coincidence,“ said Meng Bing, the founder of Singularity Brothers, “that three of its first five shops were established in Zhongguancun.“ For Singularity, Meng Bing said, “The biggest medium (for promotion or advertising) is not CCTV or Baidu, but Zhongguancun.” In this new era, he said, Zhongguancun is undoubtedly the best place to create and find new and trendy hotspots because Zhongguancun is now widely viewed in China as “a gathering place for opinion leaders.”
Indeed, over the past 20 years, the impression that most people have of Zhongguancun has gradually changed from what it once was, a large electronics super mall, to what it is today — a center for innovation and strategic developments in technology and also a source of national pride.
In addition to Singularity, Zhongguancun also houses many important new businesses, not the least of which is Virtue Inno Valley. Located in Dinghao Building, Virtue’s offices were designed by master designers from Tsinghua University’s Department of Architecture — a small, simple but still very modern design.
“Only in an incubator just over 2000 square meters could a group atmosphere be obtained,” said Li Zhu, the originator of Virtue Inno Valley’s “angel open platform.” Mr. Li Zhu has over 20 years of entrepreneurial experience. Before launching Virtue Inno Valley, he set up a software company in partnership with another Tsinghua University alumnus and then sold it to Tsinghua Tongfang. Afterwards, Mr. Li became an angel investor and one of his first investments was UUSEE (http://www.uusee.com, a sports video website).
New success stories now occur at Virtue Inno Valley every day. Many of its clients often begin as poorly developed start-ups, but they frequently evolve into successful companies, some with potential valuations in excess of hundreds of millions of RMB. The foundation for Virtue Inno Valley is rooted to a large extent in its association with Tsinghua alumni. On Tsinghua University’s 100th anniversary, the Tsinghua Alumni Association of TMT (Technology, Media, Telecom) was created to help alumni do business. Not long after, the Association and THTI (Tsinghua Technology Innovation Holding Co.) together jointly helped launch Virtue Inno Valley. At that time, the government of Haidian District was leasing two out of the four floors in the Dinghao Building to Innovation Works and Tsinghua Science Park, respectively. The two floors are currently assigned to Tsinghua Science Park and managed by THTI, and as a result, Virtue Inno Valley now occupy the entire space. From the very beginning, it was Li Zhu’s intention to launch his incubator here and make it the first and most impressive “innovative” incubator in Zhongguancun.
“Beijing provides one of the best business environments in China, and Zhongguancun is a perfect area for start-ups, in part, because of its the strong entrepreneurial atmosphere and its focus on innovation. There are also large Internet companies nearby, along with abundant talent from local colleges and universities, plus a great many financial and investment institutions. In addition, there’s also a good regional market in and around Zhongguancun. With Virtue, Zhongguancun now also has the additional infrastructure an organization to give entrepreneurs a wide range of professional value-added services.
The approach of traditional incubators is to rent low-cost office space and make a profit by carving up and renting space, often on a daily basis. However, within Virtue Inno Valley, Li Zhu expects that can really help entrepreneurs reduce their failure rates by helping to steer them in the right product direction. He can also help them connect with the resources they need to succeed. When it comes time for them to unveil their products, the Valley can also help them to find and secure the right promotional channels, find partners for cooperation and, if need be, obtain additional financing. In addition, the new incubator is also able to seed-fund many projects, as well as providing clients with many basic entrepreneurial services.
As a consequence, the biggest difference between this incubator and many other more traditional ones, Mr. Li asserted, is that “we just don’t rent a house” at a cheap price to entrepreneurs. Because Virtue Inno Valley is a community, not just a traditional incubator, it can offer its clients a “communicative atmosphere,” to small companies and small teams of people a path to succeed.
By learning from leading incubators like Y Combinator (YC), as well as from the experiences of other small incubators in Silicon Valley, plus the experiences of more than 500 start-ups, Virtue Inno Valley has also created an infrastructure for entrepreneurs, very similar in essence to a cross-enterprise team. So it’s not uncommon to see new start-ups bringing their computers to the site on their first day of business. Next, Virtue provides them with a place to work and assists them with registration. Office staff from law firms and finance firms are also on site to help them solve problems. The incubator also provides them with cloud services and helps them connect with Amazon, Aliyun, Baidu Cloud and other large platforms. In time, Li Zhu predicts, “countless billionaires will be born here.”
In Virtue Inno Valley’s experience, the most urgent demands of many early-stage entrepreneurs often involve the need for both capital and guidance. That’s why professional value-added services and investment functions are always made available to member companies by Virtue Inno Valley. Entrepreneurs can also learn from the past mistakes of other entrepreneurs, and well as from their achievements — another reason why Virtue Inno Valley is so valuable to its tenants.
Virtue Inno Valley often likes to say it offers members an “open” environment, and in many important respects, it does. First, Virtue is open to entrepreneurs. Even entrepreneurial teams, which do not receive financial investment from Virtue, are strongly supported by the incubator. Second, Virtue is open to investors from the Internet and other enterprises in other industries. As a result, Virtue is in a position to communicate with investors about all of its projects. In fact, Virtue routinely holds entrepreneurial competitions in partnership with Microsoft, Tencent, Baidu and other industry leaders. Thirdly, the incubator is also very involved to international markets. Virtue, just to give one example, recently formed a strategic partnership with Telefonica which operates incubators in no less than 12 countries. As a result, entrepreneurs at Virtue have access to potential partners as they expand overseas.
Currently, Zhongguancun is very active in securing domestic venture capital investment. Besides Virtue Inno Valley, the Garage Coffee and other new entrepreneurial service providers, Zhongguancun also works very closely with IDG Capital Partners, Legend Capital, Capital Today, Northern Light Venture Capital, Walden International, CEYUAN, Infotech, TusPark Ventures, Shenzhen Capital and other well-known institutions – all of whom are partners with ZPARK in Haidian Park. For instance, IDG has invested a number of high tech enterprises in ZPARK Haidian Park, including most famous and successful mobile internet companies in China like 360, Xiaomi, Baidu and etc.
Relying on industrial advantage of ZPARK, the overall formula for “incubator + accelerator + Science Park” is beginning to take shape. In the future, ZPARK will also energetically explore upscale services accelerating the incubation for both the middle and later stages of the industrial chain. At the same time it will continue to provide a strong incubation service for the enterprises at seed and startup stages. It will also establish step-by-step systems for “pre-incubation + full incubation + professional incubation + accelerating incubation.” ZPARK will also build a promotional service platform for incubators within the Software Park, aiming for high integration of industry for both upstream and downstream firms, and meeting the requirements in all aspects of “cluster incubation” and “professional incubation.” In this way, it can facilitate the concentration and scaled development for many kinds of business and industries.
In addition, its innovative and entrepreneurial avenues will also continue to pay attention to and research global innovative and entrepreneurial trends, and explore, experiment and promote new ways of thinking. This process will inevitably cultivate a group of new entrepreneurial service providers to inject both new blood and fresh ideas into Zhongguancun.
When we think of Silicon Valley, we always think Apple, HP and other world-famous science and technology giants. When we think of Zhongguancun, we think of Baidu and MIUI developed by Xiaomi. They are both the result in no small part to the incubation cultivated within ZPARK Haidian Park — “China’s Silicon Valley.” With help from ZPARK, these high-tech Chinese enterprises from China are now in a position to develop into true global brands. Currently, ZPARK is in the midst of realizing its strategic goal of building scientific and technological innovation centers with global influence, and through these innovations, transforming the park into a true China Silicon Valley.
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